October 8, 2012 by hannahemartin1
We all like exercising our freedom of choice instead of being told what to do and kids are certainly no exception. So it’s no surprise that the more fruit and vegetable choices kids are given, the more they end up eating. Several national food groups are taking this to heart in supporting Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools and the goal of getting 6000 salad bars into schools in three years. But that is less than 6% of the more than 100,000 schools participating in the National School Lunch program, highlighting the need for a larger-scale grant program.
Kids eat up to half their calories per day at school, making cafeterias a hot research topic. The Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University has put together a wealth of very low cost modifications for lunch rooms to increase fruit and vegetable consumption that largely involve highlighting healthier foods in visually appealing ways. Salad bars in particular have been endorsed by the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity as a way to provide healthier foods to kids. A fully stocked salad bar instantly provides a wealth of fruit and vegetable choices for kids, which can’t come soon enough based on the IOM’s 2009 School Meals Report that schools need to increase the quantity and variety of fruit and vegetables offered to meet kids’ health needs.
So where is the disconnect? As it turns out, there are several. Putting a salad bar into a cafeteria isn’t even on the radar for many food service managers and goes against the traditional wisdom that kids don’t like vegetables. A salad bar also requires extra thought be put into purchasing and meal planning when the salad bar is first operational. For those who are on the veggie-train, capital cost is a huge barrier. While charging just a few dollars per meal and receiving just $2.34 for free lunches from the NSLP, school food authorities are faced with the challenge of covering the costs of food, labor, and supplies while remaining profitable.
Through Salad Bars to Schools, a total of $2,500 must be raised (based on fund raising and total purchase goals) to purchase and ship a $1,300 salad bar to each school. To put that in terms of the National School Lunch program’s budget, that’s one lunch for 1070 kids or 0.000031% of the program’s annual budget. With the White House and IOM backing school salad bars, it only makes sense for the government to put its money where its research is.
In an attempt to keep the cost to the Federal Government at a functional minimum, a cost-share program should be instated. A sliding scale subsidy for the salad bars based on the percentage of free and reduced lunch at each school would be appropriate. For example, a school with 90% of kids on free and reduced lunch would receive a 90% subsidy for the purchase of a salad bar leaving an elementary school of 250 students with less than $1 per student to generate (via their current food service budget, fund raising efforts, private grants, etc.). States would be free to allocate their own funds to cover the cost difference as well.
In addition to reasonable monetary contributions, schools should also be required to submit proof of readiness for a salad bar before the investment is made. Food purchasing for a lunchroom with a salad bar is substantially different from that of a traditional lunchroom. Sample menus and budgets should be submitted for at least 1 month in the winter and 1 month in peak growing season. Signed approval should also be required from food service managers, principles, and district superintendents to ensure buy-in and accountability at the local level.
Based on these readiness requirements for schools and a moderate cost single-time purchase, maximum benefit can be derived from this program. Salad bars will be provided to school that want them, are ready for them, and need the financial assistance to purchase them, limiting waste and underuse.